Monday, 26 May 2014

Ukip: not much of an earthquake

Here is what I predicted last Thursday: 
"Looking at the latest YouGov poll which puts Ukip on 27% (with a 3% margin of error), if we're generous and give Ukip the whole 27%, all it has accomplished in light of the BNP collapse since 2009 is to cannibalise that vote - and the English Democrat vote - along with an interception of old Labour votes that would otherwise go to the BNP.  It has not expanded the disaffection base by more than about 2% at best. So what we're looking at here is the Farage Mirage. It has united the protest vote by deliberately hollowing itself out of policy and principle."
So I was a little out. The protest vote has shifted by just over 3% with over 55% of the vote going to the establishment parties. I have often said there was a glass ceiling for a protest vote and it certainly doesn't look like the glass has cracked. With Ukip finishing last in local elections, it is difficult to substantiate any claims that there has been a political earthquake.

Notably, the Lib Dem vote has moved to Labour, but that was to be expected. For there to have been a major political earthquake there would need to be a swing of that scale moving from one of the establishment parties to Ukip.  That has not happened. It would be churlish to say that Ukip has not made a splash, but we should not lose sight of the objectives. The people are no closer to the levers of power, and we are no closer to leaving the EU.  

With Farage now announcing his wish to destroy the Tories, the Ukip effect might well mean we don't get that referendum in 2017. Farage has clearly bought the hype that there will be a political earthquake at the general election on this basis of this poll and is playing to win. It won't happen. Not ever.

The most realistic scenario is that Ukip will score one or two MP's and stop a Tory win. That may be no bad thing. A Tory loss in a general election may well prove a positive development in order to delay a referendum until the referendum margins look better, but with Farage and Ukip representing the case for leaving the EU, that doesn't look likely either. So for all the white noise, again I ask... what does this Ukip "tidal wave" achieve?

A few Ukip MP's at the general election would certainly be a political event, but were we to transpose the swing of 3% onto a general election, unless Ukip has an ace up its sleeve, that doesn't look at all realistic. A year is a long time in politics and there is still everything to play for, but I suspect what we will see is a further hollowing out of Ukip - whose apparent strategy is now to win power at Westminster with no interim objectives.  By then people will be asking serious questions of Ukip to which it has no serious answers. We are looking at a party that has no policies to speak of, and no agenda for power. Thus it has nowhere to go.

What we don't want is yet another empty party pulling at the levers of power. Especially not a reactionary populist one. That is not change for the better. Thankfully we have the FPTP system to prevent precisely that - and if we want real democracy we will have to come back with something more substantive to offer. As abysmal as the establishment parties are, I think I prefer the status quo in the absence of a well defined alternative. The polls will show I am not alone in thinking that.

What the Ukip experiment will show when it finally fizzles out is that the system is designed to prevent people taking real power.  We can voice our protest but a protest is all it is. Winning seats in euro-elections and councils does not equate with winning power.  If we want power for ourselves we shall have to take it by other means.

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